Explanation by a Baptist minister
AN OPEN LETTER
To Reformation Christians
My Dear Fellow Protestant Brothers and Sisters,
I’m one of you. I’m a charismatic Baptist minister who was saved at the age of eleven during an old-fashioned Baptist fall revival in my hometown church and filled with the Holy Spirit when I was twenty-seven. My dad was a heavy drinker when a Baptist preacher led him to the Lord. My entire family “got saved” that week.
A few years later, I surrendered to a call to the ministry at the age of 16, graduated from high school and enrolled in a Southern Baptist College to study for the ministry. I’ve been preaching the gospel ever since. That sixty-plus years In 1970, during the charismatic renewal, my wife and I were visited by the Holy Spirit while sitting in our living room. Both of us received the mighty filling of the Spirit. The presence of the Lord filled our living room, and we experienced a Pentecostal outpouring as recorded in Acts 2.
That experience radically changed our lives and our ministry. The Book of Acts came alive and for these past 50-plus years my wife and I have witnessed the Lord perform miracles, give sight to the blind, save the souls of the downtrodden, heal cancer, and give hope to the hopeless. Truly, the Lord is resurrected and alive!
I said all that to say this—you and I can learn much from our restoration brothers and sisters, the Mormons. (And by the way, when I use the term “Mormon,” I’m referring to all restoration sects: i.e., LDS, RLDS (aka Community of Christ, Restoration Branches, etc.) We must remind ourselves—the kingdom of God is ever advancing! “Of the increase of His government, there will be no end” (Isa.9:7). There is always more! More truth. More love. More grace. More revelation. And our Mormon brothers and sisters have a portion of God’s truth and revelation for us. For instance, here is what I have learned down through the years from my restoration brothers and sisters.
A heads up before we begin to explore and examine. I’m speaking only to those who are hungry and open. To those who have a desire to follow God regardless where the glory cloud leads. I’m speaking to those whose heart longs for Him “as the deer pants for the water brooks” (Psa.42:1).
Here’s where I’m coming from…
I was 27 years old and pastoring my first church—Grace Baptist Church in West Monroe, LA. Having preached Sunday after Sunday for months, it wasn’t long until I was dry as a bone. My spiritual life had become monotonous, unexciting and uninspired. Quite honestly, I was at my wits end. So I began setting my alarm for four in the morning to crawl out of bed and tiptoe into my study, making sure not to wake up my wife.
I would lie on my face on a rug and simply cry out in my soul, “Help, Lord.” There were no tears. I was beyond them. My only words were “please come, God.” I did that for months. And finally, one morning the Lord spoke. “Would you be willing to speak in tongues if it would draw you close to me?” I shot back, “Lord, I don’t believe I have to speak in tongues to be filled with the Spirit.” He responded, “I didn’t ask you that.” And then He asked again, “Would you be willing to speak in tongues if it would draw you close to me?”
You have to understand. I was desperate. Really desperate. Ministry was no longer fun. My Christian life had been reduced to sermons, rote prayers, church services and Bible reading. (By the way, discipline can never replace passion.) I was crying out for Him! I finally answered…
“Lord, I’m willing to run up and down the street naked if doing so will draw me closer to you.”
And I meant it! You see, sadly, my Baptist theology had become my god. It was a subtle thing. The Lord had exposed my agenda: make a Baptist out of everybody I meet. That morning God killed my god and soon filled me with Himself. He came. And my life has never been the same. From then on, I’ve been a “Jesus person.” (Before I was first a Baptist and then a Christian.)
Since then, I’ve been absolutely infatuated, head over heels, drop dead in love with Him. And you know what? I’ve discovered he’s head over heels in love with me!
Lest I be misunderstood, I haven’t left my Baptist roots. I’m still a Baptist. Historically, that is. That’s where I found my spiritual heritage. And I still embrace those cardinal Baptist doctrines. My point is elsewhere. I heard an old, wise Southern Baptist preacher once say, “Ultimate Truth is found in the person of Jesus. God is the Truth. Your Bible is the truth about the Truth, and your theology is the truth about the truth about the Truth.” He went on to say, “And you can know the truth about the truth about the Truth and not know the Truth. And that’s the truth!” Underneath the humor lies a lot of wisdom. Jesus is our everything. Truly our All in All.
As said, I’m looking for those who are hungry. Those who are willing to lay down their doctrinal agendas and pant after Him as the deer pants after the water brooks.
If you’re one of those, I believe you will listen to what we have to say. If not, you’ll simply pick apart my doctrine.
Back to my comment—what I have learned from our LDS brothers and sisters?...
First, I learned the truth about community.
The gospel is two things: doctrine and community. It’s an expression of both. It’s said of the early Christians in the Book of Acts,
They continued steadfastly at the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship…so continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and
breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart (Acts 2:42,46).
Let’s face it. We Protestants haven’t done so well “fleshing out” the experience of community. The essence of our faith is essentially defined
by our doctrinal expression. We’re either Baptist or Lutheran or Methodist. Pentecostal, Charismatic or Episcopalian. Depending on our doctrinal persuasion.
Sadly, one of the fruits of the reformation is doctrinal sectarianism. We Protestants don’t live together in community. O, we see one another
at church once or twice a week for an hour and a half and have our local annual Easter service together (and call that community) but that’s about it.
Restoration history, on the other hand, is ripe with community expression. Joseph Smith, for instance, did not build churches. He built cities.
Communities. And all sects were welcome. While mayor of Nauvoo, Joseph passed an ordinance "…that the Catholics, Presbyterians,
Methodists, Latter-day Saints, Quakers, Episcopals…and all other religious sects and denominations whatever, shall have free tolerance
and equal privileges in this city."
It was "against the law" not to show charity and tolerance toward those of other sects in the city of Nauvoo, the city Joseph built.
Which brings up a fundamental issue—God’s heart has always been on cities. Not churches. And His heart hasn’t changed since the early church. Paul preached the gospel to the church at Rome, the church at Ephesus, the church at Thessalonica, to the church at Corinth. There was one church per city in Paul’s day. In fact, Paul wrote to the church in the city.
Rhonda Hughey makes an excellent point in her book “Desperate For His Presence,”
This is one of our biggest challenges for believers in the Western world—our fascination and love of building things.
We’re good at it! Unfortunately, our skill in building can make us more impressed with what we are building than what the Lord
wants to build. Until we see the big picture and the lack of fruit in the face of the devastation facing us, we will remain satisfied
with our own agendas and empire building. (p. 170)
As believers living in the twenty-first century, our call is clear. We must move on from Empire building (building church buildings) to Kingdom building. It bears repeating. God’s heart is after cities. Transformational cities. Cities that have been touched and changed by His tangible presence. Sort of reminds me of those cities that are being transformed in our day by the power and presence of the Lord.
I’m thinking of that little town in Guatemala.
The town of Almolonga was typical of Mayan communities, plagued with addiction to alcohol, steeped in idolatry, and poverty-stricken. The people who were full of fear and seeking relief from their poverty looked for support in alcohol and a local idol named Maximon. Tired of living under the influence of idolatry, a group of believers began crying out to God during evening prayer vigils beginning in August 1974.
They gathered together in unity and declared freedom over their community. They resisted the enemy in their midst and the devastating consequences of his presence among the power of God! God began to respond to their faith and prayer, delivering many who were demonically oppressed and physically afflicted. As a result, many committed their lives to Christ.
After God began to visit the land, an unprecedented revival occurred. Families were touched and transformed by the power of God. Miracles of healing and deliverance have caused the city to be called both the “City of Miracles” and the “City of God.” Today more than 90 percent of the people in the community have become evangelical Christians. The life of the community, the families, agriculture, businesses, center around the life of the church.
Local people refer to their community in terms of two time frames: before the power of God came, and after He came!
(Desperate For His Presence, 58)
The jail shut down, for no one was committing crimes in the city. Children were growing up with no sense of, nor understanding of, evil.
I’m talking about experiencing the reality of community. I learned this truth firsthand from my restoration brothers and sisters. When Joseph Smith built the city of Nauvoo, doctrinal differences among Christians took a back seat to living together. Everyone was treated the same, regardless of creed. And that’s one of the promises of the Book of Mormon. The Two Sticks, (which include Bible-believing Christians and Book of Mormon Christians, as well as the two books) will come together in an expression of unity during these last days.
As reformation Christians, may we be an instrument of the Lord in hastening that day. Moving on…
What have I learned from my Mormon brothers and sisters? I have learned…
The Sacredness of Place
I’m aware—in the Old Testament God had a temple for His people. But in the New Testament God has a people for His temple. I know that. And I’m also aware what makes a place sacred is God. But that’s exactly my point. There are those sacred places to be recognized even under the New Covenant. For instance, I had the opportunity to visit the Holy Land. We went to Bethlehem. To River Jordan, to Jericho. To the Mount of Olives. To the tomb of Lazarus and Jacob’s well. I walked inside the empty tomb where it’s believed our Lord lay and was resurrected. And I walked quietly and reverently in that garden—the Garden of Gethsemane. O, what an experience. His presence still lingers in that place! The same olive trees that stood in the garden when He was there are still there. What a feeling—to touch the same tree that He perhaps touched or knelt under. I’m saying, we Protestants do have a sense of the Holy Land as indeed a sacred place.
I’m also saying, my Mormon brothers and sisters helped expand my thinking and understanding. Not only is the Old World special and sacred, so is the New World. I’m talking about America.
All my upbringing and teaching in our small Baptist Church back in those Missouri hills had always drawn my attention to the Old World. I had heard more than one sermon on the significance of Israel becoming a nation in 1948. Never once did I hear about the significance of the New World. I had no idea that a Branch of the House of Israel had migrated to the New World, to the Americas, and would become an Ensign to the nations during these last days.
I remember sitting in church as a young lad and dreaming, "…It sure would be neat to visit the Holy Land someday. To walk where Jesus walked."
We Protestants are taught from day one that all the good stuff happens “over yonder, in the yonder." We’re, generally speaking, totally ignorant
of the Golden Age of Ancient America. For instance, during the time of Christ in America there was fine workmanship displayed in buildings,
metallurgy was prominent, astronomy was evident, staircase farms were numerous, therapeutics were practiced, the lost art of coloring
was discovered, and fine twined linen was available.
Yes, "…For God so loved the world…" the whole world. That’s why it doesn’t sound so strange to me anymore when
someone says "…the Lord visited America."
Why wouldn’t He? It’s part of His world.
So the question arises, "…If Jesus visited America, then were the ancient Biblical prophets aware of the existence of the New World?"
And the answer is, I believe, yes.
Isaiah, for one, speaks of the land shadowing with wings.
Woe [hail] to the land shadowing with wings which is beyond the rivers of Ethiopia [Africa]; that sendeth ambassadors by the sea. (Isa.18:1,2).
I learned from my restoration brothers and sisters that America was sacred.
And finally, what have I learned from my restoration brothers and sisters? I learned of…
That is, my understanding of the afterlife has been expanded. Raised in the Baptist church, I was always taught—when we die, we either go to hell or heaven. That was pretty much it. That’s true. But there’s more to it. Much more.
For instance, I never was taught the place of rewards in the Christian life. I was always taught grace. It’s all about grace. Our favorite verse to recite is:
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone
should boast (Eph.2:8,9).
And I believe that. As one brother put it, “I do not believe in a salvation by works. I believe in a salvation that works!
But I’ve also learned the difference between a prize and a gift. Paul also speaks of a prize:
Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended, but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching
forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Phil.3:13,14).
Interesting. Paul speaks of “the gift” and “the prize.” And both are from God. How do we reconcile the two? By the way, what is the prize?
I don’t think I’ve ever heard one sermon on “the prize.” My Mormon brothers and sisters helped me here.
I believe grace has to do with that grand biblical theme of salvation. Or our destination. Works, on the other hand, have to do with sanctification. Or our destiny. What our LDS brothers and sisters call: our exaltation. One is a doctrine of kind; the other, a doctrine of degrees. One will take you to heaven; the other will take you to a higher realm in heaven. One will change you from one kind of a person (sinner) into another kind (saint). The other will change you from one degree of glory to another degree of glory. I never learned those distinctions from my fellow Protestant brethren.
And by the way, it's your motive for doing good works that matters. I, for instance, don't perform good works in order to be saved. I perform good works because I am saved. And believe it or not, most of my LDS friends I know would say the same. Here’s an unknown fact—that the LDS leadership preaches salvation by grace alone. Take, for instance, the late Bruce McConkie. Elder McConkie is held by the highest esteem among Mormons. Regarding the matter of salvation, McConkie writes,
Salvation is free. Justification is free. Neither of them can be purchased; neither can be earned; neither comes by the Law of Moses, or by good works, or by any power or ability that man has…Salvation is free, freely available, freely to be found. It comes
because of his goodness and grace, because of his love, mercy, and condescension toward the children of men…The questions
then are: What salvation is free? What salvation comes by the grace of God? With all the emphasis of the rolling thunders of Sinai,
we answer: All salvation is free; all comes by the merits and mercy and grace of the Holy Messiah; there is no salvation of any kind, nature, or degree that is not bound to Christ and his atonement.
(The Promised Messiah, 346-47)
As we say back home, “now that’s some doggone good Baptist preaching!”
Back to the afterlife…
Contrary to what many of us evangelicals think, the Bible, I believe, does suggest that the afterlife is not as static as we make it out to be. Paul does in fact speak of our graduating “from [one degree of] glory to [another degree of] glory.” I do not believe Paul was limiting our spiritual growth to this life (II Cor.3:18,19). There is something to be said about Paul’s distinctive categories referenced in I Corinthians 15 when he uses the terms “celestial” and “terrestrial.” In the context of that chapter, Paul is speaking of bodies in the hereafter. Or degrees of glory in the hereafter. He's talking about the physical resurrection, and what occurs after the resurrection.
As a Protestant, I'm aware I used a theological “buzz word:” Exaltation. Most of us Protestants, generally speaking, have a knee jerk reaction to the word “exaltation,” thinking perhaps “but that’s a Mormon doctrine.” I’m not convinced it is.
Our favorite Protestant apostle, Paul, spoke, or certainly alluded to, the grand theme. Exaltation, I believe, is a legitimate biblical theme. True: it’s mostly ignored by us Protestants, but nevertheless, a valid biblical theme. (We’re more likely to call it Sonship.) Which brings up the point: I believe we Protestants have far too narrow of a view of the afterlife. We seldom, if ever, preach sermons on I Corinthians 15—degrees in the afterlife and the kingdom of God. It’s just not in our makeup.
Following are a few select passages I believe that point to the biblical doctrine of exaltation:
· “…I press toward the mark of the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus…” (Philippians 3:14)
· “…For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things in bringing many sons unto glory….” (Hebrews 2:10)
· “…There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial; but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial
is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory I of the stars; for one star differeth
from another star in glory. So also is the resurrection of the dead.” (I Cor.15: 40-42)
You say, but the doctrine of exaltation sounds so much like heresy. We must understand the nature of heresy. Heresy is not preaching falsehoods. Heresy is preaching the truth...and carrying it too far. Satan preached truth to Eve in the garden: “But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden,” preached Satan to Eve, “God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die…” (Gen.3:3).
Satan is preaching the truth to Eve and carrying it too far (see Gen.2:17). The Lord said nothing to Adam and Eve about not touching the tree! That’s heresy—carrying truth too far. By such a definition, it’s safe to say (without intending to speak for others) we all have a tinge of doctrinal heresy in us. That is, in all probability there are areas in our theologies where our understanding of truth is out of balance. We either carry a thing too far, or not far enough. That’s why we need His grace in all matters. And I believe we need to cut our restoration brothers and sisters some slack if we think they carry things too far. Or not far enough. So do we sometimes.
My dear Protestant brothers and sisters, it’s my prayer that you will join me in celebrating our commonalities we share with our Mormon brothers and sisters rather than continue to magnify our differences.